Above all, Norwegian Oscar submission Hope (original title Håp) is a relationship movie about messy, committed love. Though the film is centered on someone struggling with cancer, writer/director Maria Sødahl doesn’t create a shiny, Hollywood ‘cancer film’. She reveals many aspects of what it’s like to face mortality, from the perspective of a woman and mother, as well as from those standing by, like the children and the partner who love her, and does so with such truth, that the film will resonate with a wide variety of viewers. The film will also resonate with most who are in or have had long term relationships, which often involve complications, resentments, and the experience of repeatedly falling out of and back into love.
Sødahl, basing it on her own battle with cancer, tells the story of Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) getting a diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor, and how she and her long term companion Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) navigate the experience, both as partners and parents of a large blended family. The couple has grown apart and learned to live within in a relationship of little communication or quality time. Anja’s sickness makes it clear she must ask for and demand help and support from Tomas in order to face her uncertain future on the best terms. It’s as if they go through all the stages of grief both together and apart, all while reevaluating their partnership moment by moment.
Watching these two come together despite their very complicated history makes for a spectacular character study, as well as an opportunity for Hovig and Skarsgård to put in exceptional performances both alone and as scene partners. The movie belongs to Andrea Bræin Hovig, who has been building a career in her home country of Norway for years, having been nominated twice as Best Supporting Actress in their Amanda Awards, their version of the Oscars, and winning Best Actress this year for Håp, however, it is often in the scenes in which she is playing against Skarsgård in which she most excels, and it is definitely some of his best work as well. Together they make the perfect, awkward, loving, dysfunctional duo.
There is a languid way that Sødahl films the scenes, which show her comfort with silences and trust in the performers, that allows an authenticity rarely seen in stories about disease and death. There are no histrionics, no melodrama, only a raw truth that cuts to the bone.
As is so often the case, Hope was very much deserving on not only making the Oscars shortlist this year, which it did, but should have been nominated and even win the award. Too bad more voters didn’t see it. Sødahl built a delicate balance with her film. It is suffused in equal measure with pain, comfort, and hope.
5 out of 5 stars